clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2015 South Carolina Baseball: Season Review

New, 18 comments

Kaci and Katie discuss what went wrong for the Gamecocks in 2015

TheBigSpur

With the announcement of the 2015 NCAA Tournament field, which unsurprisingly does not include the Gamecocks, South Carolina's baseball season is officially over. Katie and I decided to wrap things up for the year by talking about what went wrong for the team and where we think the Gamecocks are headed next season.

Kaci

So, the 2015 baseball season is mercifully over. I hate using the phrase "mercifully over" to describe a South Carolina baseball season, particularly since we're only a few years removed from winning it all twice in a row, but here we are. Before we get into the less fun discussion of what went wrong and why, let's talk about the positive things that we can take away from this season. I'm assuming we both have the same answer for what the best thing about the season was: Kyle Martin.

Katie

I cannot say enough good things about Kyle Martin. In a year where most of the Gamecocks struggled at the plate and in the field, he was solid in both. When pretty much the entire infield went #AllErrorsEverything, Martin was constantly dependable at first base, even making up for some other players' mistakes. Given that he came back for his senior season, it makes me so sad that the team had such a down year. I'm happy, though, that at least he was productive and showed off his skill. Outside of the actual game, Martin was also counted on as a leader for this team, and I thought he really fulfilled that role. He was a great representative for the program, and we were lucky to have him on our team.

Kaci

I completely agree, K-Mart was a huge asset to this team. There's a reason he was first-team All-SEC; his stats both overall and in SEC play were just fantastic. There were several other players that had good years amidst the overall struggles of the team. Max Schrock hit well despite having yet another season with multiple injuries. Elliott Caldwell had a great year and set a school record for triples in a season with 8. Coming into the season I didn't really expect that I'd be as sad to say goodbye to him as I am, but he was a lot of fun to cheer for this year. Jack Wynkoop had a few rough starts, but for the most part he put the team in a position to win. He especially stepped up after Wil Crowe's season ended early due to injury. Lest we forget what an impressive string of performances that was, here's the combined line from his Vandy, Tennessee and Auburn starts: 25.1 IP, 2 ER, 2 BB, 27 K. Sadly, that's about where the positive things from this season end. There were other players that had occasional great performances, but nobody was very consistent or reliable, which was one of the major problems with this team.

Katie

I agree with all of the above, although I would also add that DC Arendas quietly had a very nice season at third base. His offense maybe wasn't where we wish it had been, and he did make a few errors, but overall, I think he was one of the stronger infielders. As for the consistency issue, the only thing that was consistent was how inconsistent this team was. With the possible exceptions of the the Vandy and Texas A&M series, the last midweek game against Upstate, and the first game against LSU, there was never really a time that the team was clicking on all cylinders. Maybe during the early non-conference portion of the season it was a little better, but everything fell apart once conference play started. There was also the issue of the team seemingly getting deflated, which I think had a major role in their inability to rally when things got tough.

Kaci

I'm always wary of criticizing the effort or mental toughness of a team, particularly one made up of players who are kids in their late teens/early twenties, but the lack of fight from this team when things started to go wrong wasn't at all what we're used to seeing from Gamecock baseball. The Gamecocks only won three games this season when they were trailing or tied after 6 innings. Nearly half of the games they lost were lost by one or two runs. I thought it was especially frustrating to see the team hang around in so many games and just not be able to get the big hit to win. 

The first, and probably biggest, culprit for the team's struggles was the offense. The final team batting average of .257 was the lowest since 1973. And don't forget that we were using new baseballs this season, which have lower seams and were expected to carry a bit more and increase the offense in college baseball as a whole. I'm not sure if the issue was recruiting or player development, but the Gamecocks just couldn't put together a strong lineup this year. Several returning players actually hit better than they did last season, including the top three hitters Martin, Schrock and Caldwell. But a couple hit significantly worse, most notably Connor Bright. Most of the younger players did not hit especially well and even those that had some power (Destino) struggled in conference play.There were a few games that were exceptions, but for the most part Carolina didn't get production from the bottom of the batting order this season.


Katie

For sure, I'm not big on criticizing college kids playing a game either, but it was disappointing to see them seemingly give up when things got rough, particularly in games that were really important. There seemed to be a spark missing from the Gamecocks dugout that we've seen in past years (starting with Michael Roth, really), and I hope they can figure out how to get that back next year. I don't want to make assumptions based on a bunch of guys I don't know, but it just seemed like some of the closeness and the picking each other up we've seen in previous Gamecocks teams was lacking with this year's.

And absolutely, the offense was mostly mediocre at best, with a few really strong outlier performances and a few really embarrassing ones. The number of times I tweeted some variation on "The Gamecocks can't take advantage of a scoring opportunity/South Carolina goes down in order/Nothing for the Gamecocks in that inning/South Carolina's offense offends me" was far too high. Piling on the coaches was a popular theme this season, and I really don't know how much blame they deserve, but for whatever reason, neither the players nor the coaches made the right adjustments at the plate, and there has to be some accountability for that.

Kaci

Yeah, something certainly needs to change at the plate next season, particularly since the three players responsible for the majority of our offensive production will likely be gone. The Gamecocks have a good recruiting class coming in, but they had a top 5 recruiting class entering this season and obviously the results on the field didn't reflect that. I don't expect us to see any major shake-ups to the coaching staff, but I hope that at least internally they're able to identify what the problem was and take steps to fix it. Speaking of the coaching staff, how are you feeling about Chad Holbrook? I think it's obvious he's not going anywhere due to one abysmal year, but you have to think that his seat will be at least a little warm next year, right? There's a good bit of blame for how this season went to go around and I don't think our problems are 100% his fault, but by its very nature being the head coach makes him the person that's held responsible for the team at the end of the day. And right now he's the guy in charge of a team that didn't even make the tournament just three years after playing for a national title for the third straight time. A decline that steep just shouldn't happen to a program with the facilities, reputation, and recent achievements that we have.

Katie

Yeah, I definitely don't think all of this season's issues can be pinned on Holbrook, but like you said, he has to shoulder a lot of them just by virtue of being the coach. I'm sure he wanted to win and I don't doubt that he's a good guy and all, but I don't know if he's got enough of an aggressive personality in terms of pumping up the team or getting on them for playing poorly or things like that. I mean, I think there was one series (though I can't remember which one) where he actually seemed pretty ticked off in his postgame presser, but other than that, the emotion component seemed to be lacking a bit. As for his actual coaching ability, outside of the offense-related issues, it seemed like the Gamecocks were a lot sloppier this year than in years past, some of which I'd think has to do with coaching. Relatedly, there were also some questionable coaching decisions made regarding pitching, in terms of who to start or how long guys were kept in the game. Part of that might have been due to the fact that we really had only two - and then one - guaranteed starting pitchers and the bullpen had its fair share of issues, but it just seems like that's another area where there's a decent amount of room for improvement.

Kaci

I also felt like the Gamecocks were sloppier than usual this year and made a ton more errors than we're used to seeing. But actually I looked up the stats going back a few years and our .972 fielding percentage and 61 errors fall within the normal range for USC teams over the past decade or so, though they are on the lower side of things. 

The pitching was definitely a huge concern and maybe the most mystifying problem to me. The contrast between the pitching last year and this year was just so dramatic. I definitely agree that there were questionable coaching decisions as far as the pitching was concerned, but keep in mind that Holbrook and Meyers presided over a pitching staff last year that was one of the best in the country and had incredibly good numbers. Matt Vogel was the only one of the nine returning pitchers this season to improve his ERA. The pitching staff also walked far more batters while keeping about the same number of strikeouts. I'm not sure where the blame for that regression lies, but it's not entirely with the coaching staff even though they did make some bad calls. The new baseballs were probably a factor, but it's not as if every pitching staff in the country had the same issues the Gamecocks did. Maybe part of the reason the coaches seemed to be struggling with how to manage the pitching staff was that there were problems this year that they hadn't faced before. In Holbrook's first two years as a head coach a freshman emerged as a clear third starter by the middle of the season (Wynkoop in '13, Crowe in '14) and someone stepped into the role of the closer very effectiviely (Webb, Seddon). That didn't happen this year and then the Gamecocks had the misfortune of losing the Friday starter to injury. I think that USC had several very talented pitchers, but Wynkoop was the only one that could be relied upon to be good consistently. That made for a rough situation, both for the coaches and the players.

Katie

I agree, this was definitely uncharted territory in terms of the way the pitching staff developed over the season. Hopefully this experience will be something the coaches and players can use to target improvement areas for next season. Getting back to the sloppiness thing, I think the common theme that proved to be most problematic for the offense, defense, and pitching this season was just a lack of fundamentals/execution. It's interesting that the defense statistically wasn't significantly worse than in past seasons, so maybe it was more noticeable on the defensive side because the offense and pitching have been stronger in the past, which sort of made up for mistakes in the field. Plus, the Gamecocks were winning, so it was somewhat easier to overlook things.

Kaci

Yeah, I think the best thing that can come of this season is that the coaches and players learn from it and use the experience to fix some of the problems that they had. Along those lines, how are you feeling as we look forward to next season? My unquenchable optimism means that in my heart I think the Gamecocks will be in Omaha, but as a reasonable person I recognize that there are a lot of reasons to be concerned. As we've already mentioned, USC is losing its biggest offensive contributors. Unless Wynkoop comes back, there will be an entirely new weekend pitching rotation. Do you think that that the returning players can improve enough and that the newcomers can contribute enough for next year's team to meet typical expectations at Carolina?

Katie

I'm in the same boat as you are, in that as a sports optimist, I think the Gamecocks will at least make it past the SEC Tournament next year, but as a realist, I known there are some glaring issues that need to be addressed in order for that to happen. As a whole, I think the team is going to really need to commit to getting back on the right track. I can't imagine they were happy with how this season played out, and that should be pretty good motivation to avoid a repeat performance. While losing the main offensive contributors and likely Wynkoop is definitely a bummer, it presents a really great opportunity for other guys to step up. That didn't happen too much this season, so I hope there are at least a few guys who are ready to move into bigger production and leadership roles next season, or the Gamecocks could have a rough go of things next year.